A Great Cusco Poet, Gustavo Pérez Ocampo

A notice for Gustavo Pérez Ocampo’s birthday, on November 19th, flashed across my screen as I scrolled through my Facebook feed. The man with the glasses and goatee (from which he took his nickname “el Chivo” – ‘the goat’) caught my eye with his contemplative gaze.

Pérez Ocampo was known for his poetry, yet of poetry he says, “Poetry is brutal, animal, hormonal; or to say it in another way, poetry is irrational. Literature is the work of the rational man. Poetry is the work of the animal side that man has . . . In other words, literature is a science without quitting art. You learn systematically to do theatre, novels, stories, criticism, essays. On the other hand, poetry is an intuition, a vocation, or better, a predestination, a species of curse that we poets carry. Literary genres, among them philosophy, have laws and rules. In poetry there are none of those. I am not speaking of versifying which is another thing. That is why the poet is an island that does not share the vulgarity of the waters around him.–%20GPO.htm#uno

Gustavo Pérez Ocampo
Pérez Ocampo’s island was firmly planted in his beloved home, Qosqo, the place of his birth and life. He wrote of this passion in “Words for Cusco” when he says, “where the streets come in to show their tenderness and raise up to tell us of their pretentions of reaching the sky . . . where there is no need to sing to know of the existence of poetry . . . where the stones have hardened time, as a result, in the archeological monuments you find fragments of eternity . . . where the chicha is proud to become song and tears . . . where the huayno lets loose the forms of the Cholo and ties the hands of passion . . . where no one has a first or last name, because all are ennobled by being called Cusqueños . . .”

His words flowed over and through the lives of the people, and he gave voice to many in not only his poetry, but in his journalism and his teaching. His words were heard on the radio program “The World and Its Surroundings” and written in El Comercio and El Diario El Sol.

Perhaps more important than his writing and his many awards, was his teaching, influencing young minds. ¨Hundreds of his ex-students tell with warmth about his professional and human qualities, about his philosophy of learning and of life that he taught in every one of his classes. He gave true lessons and learning.”

He was well loved by other poets and earned their high praise. A contemporary poet of Chile, J.M. Liscano, called him the ‘poet of the illuminated heart’, playing on the poem that Peréz O. had written with the same title.

He was a vanguard of women’s rights, social policy, and the recognition of the problems of the poor. He wrote beautifully about ugly things. A Cusqueño, Angel Avendaño Farfán called him the ‘knight of justice’. The Argentine poet Máximo Simpson describes his writing by saying,
“The multiple flows of his gentle poems, so gentle and so high flying, while others are steep with human complaints, or overcome with love – the universal motif – make him a luck, a charm – a sorcerer’s curse or miracle which in the incandescence of his eyes reflect the world, men, and things with un-erasable iridescence.”

I join my heart with the words of Maximo Simpson when he says, “ I hope one day we meet again to continue our customary conversation: poetry.”

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